At the end of June, I spent the best part of a week at Neal’s Yard Creamery in Herefordshire learning and making cheese, crème fraiche and yoghurts with them.
In the past I’ve made lots of social visits to Herefordshire in general and Neal’s Yard Creamery in particular so it was great to be back and to catch up with Charlie, Grainne, Conan, Holly, Finn and Rags the dog.
Although initially Neal’s Yard Creamery and Neal’s Yard Dairy were one and the same, the two parted ways after a few years when Charlie Westhead, until then an employee at Neal’s Yard Dairy working in the shop and driving around the country buying and selecting cheese, moved into cheesemaking and developed Neal’s Yard Creamery as a separate and sister company. At first they were situated out at Ide Hill, near Sevenoaks in Kent but in 1996, Charlie moved the business to their own premises overlooking the Golden Valley in a particularly beautiful part of Herefordshire, near the border with Wales.
The building that houses Neal’s Yard Creamery these days is an open-space, converted farm building that has been extended to house a variety of cold rooms and cheesemaking space. The impressive thing, when you work alongside them, is the variety of products they manage to make and how they are able to organise the space in order to make each of them.
There is no cheese vat. Milk is set in a series of plastic tubs for the cows milk cheeses and goats milk cheeses alike. They are then ladled onto a series of draining tables. In amongst the draining cheeses, workstations are set up to wrap the fresh cheeses or to transfer the maturing cheeses onto wire racks and then into the appropriate incubation room or cold room. Meanwhile, a small vat in the corner heats the milk and cream for yoghurts and crème fraiche and at the appropriate time, the mixture is poured into pots to be incubated and set.
Another thing I had been wanting to look at, as well, with a view to giving feedback for a dairy I hope to work with in Oxfordshire was the alternative energy sources Neal’s Yard Creamery has. A windmill and a series of solar panels provide power and contribute to hot water. Their boiler is wood powered and so effective that not only Charlie but also his longstanding head cheesemaker Haydn Roberts sing its praises. If you make the amount of cheese, yoghurt and crème fraiche that these guys do, you really appreciate hot water for your washing up, not to mention for heating up all the milk and keeping the whole Creamery warm!
It was a fascinating week in which I learned far too much to report in one post. Stay tuned for more cheesey details.